Stafford girls claim regional crown

By KEITH McMILLAN

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CHATHAM Stuck in the parking lot of the Spotsylvania Mall at 5:30 a.m. waiting for a new bus after the doors on the one they had wouldn’t close, Stafford High School’s Tuesday did not get off to a great start. But once they got going, their four-hour trip to Hargrave Military Academy for the Group AAA Northwest Region Championships ended with a flourish when meet director Allan Andersen announced the final scores for the meet: the Indians’ third-place finish in the 400-yard freestyle relay pushed them three points ahead of Culpeper and earned them the girls title.

“We knew it was going to be close,” said Stafford’s Christy Moore.

Before the announcement, no one was quite sure if the Indians or Blue Devils had won. The relays raced in three groups, and Stafford’s relay team won the second heat. In the third group, the one with the fastest seed times, Culpeper finished sixth, which turned out to be 13th overall.

“We had an idea,” said Stafford head coach Jon Raymond with a smile. “But I wasn’t smart or fast enough to figure out where they placed.”

“Their coach came over and said ‘you just won it,’ Indians assistant Peter Maloney explained.

Another team of Indians came up short in its pursuit of a regional championship, but still turned in its best-ever finish.

Gar-Field, which had finished third in the region three straight times before taking fifth last season, got two new region records from Brett MacLennan and took home a regional championship in the 200 medley relay and runner-up medal in the 200 freestyle relay.

“I’m not unhappy,” said Gar-Field head coach Rob Knoeppel. “We were hoping we could win, but we knew it would be tough.”

E.C. Glass, which finished with 293 points, won the boys team championship, followed by Gar-Field (243), Stonewall Jackson (202), Osbourn (177) and Culpeper (165).

Following Stafford (232) in the girls team scoring were Culpeper (229), E.C. Glass (192), Osbourn (184) and Albemarle (165). Osbourn Park finished sixth with 154 and four-time defending regional champion Woodbridge, who tied with Albemarle last season, finished seventh with 152.

Osbourn junior Nicole Snyder also won an individual regional championship in the 500 freestyle, beating second-place Janel Danchak of Woodbridge by nearly seven seconds. Snyder added a third-place finished in the 100 freestyle and also anchored the Eagles’ second-place medley relay unit, which included sophomore Elizabeth Mueller, senior Audrey Pietrzyk and freshman Sarah Ameen.

“My goal was to finish top five in girls, top five in guys,” said Lucey of his team expectations. “Getting fourth in both was great.”

Osbourn Park’s Erin Hammersley double-medaled by taking second place in both the 100 and 200 freestyles. Teammate Drew Chartrand finished second in the boys 100 butterfly and fourth in the 200 individual medley.

Colonial Forge’s Thomas Martz and Brooke Point’s Travis Shaw also double-medaled and Stafford’s Nick Lloyd won a regional championship in the backstroke. Stonewall Jackson’s Zachary Hayden, Michael Cartwright and Kerry Urso, Osbourn’s Joe Mueller, Josh Nicoletti and Pietrzyk, and Stafford’s Raddatz each clocked individual top-three finishes.

Tuesday’s most exciting moment came in the men’s 400 freestyle relay.

Top-seeded Stonewall Jackson dropped as far back as fourth before getting within a body length of E.C. Glass with 25 yards to go. Senior Michael Cartwright, the Raiders’ anchor, took the lead from the Hilltoppers’ Reid Madden on the final flip-turn.

“I was scared,” said Raider freshman Matt Marquart, who swam the second leg of the relay, “but I thought he would pull it out.”

Osbourn head coach Jason Lucey was torn, pulling for his boys relay, which finished eighth, and rooting for Cedar Run District mates Stonewall to pass E.C. Glass.

“As soon as he flip-turned, he took it from E.C Glass,” Lucey said. “I almost felt like we won That’s the best way to finish off the meet.”

Cartwright held off Madden and the Raiders won by three-hundredths of a second.

“I didn’t know I out-touched him,” Cartwright said. “He was in my sight, then I lost him. [At the wall] I spun around and saw my coach [get excited].”

The swim by Stonewall Jackson was a positive moment during a day in which several elite swimmers said they were disappointed with their times.

“They said it was a fast pool,” Lucey said. “I don’t know if it was the travel that got to the kids, but it wasn’t as fast as they talked about.”

Part of the trouble may have been four unexpected off days for the region’s swimmers. The meet was originally scheduled for Friday at noon, then moved to 4 p.m., then to Monday, then to Tuesday to ensure the safest possible weather and road conditions.

Stonewall’s Arlen Connolly said the postponements were “kind of frustrating.”

“You get kind of anxious when you keep putting it off,” added Marquart.

“I thought that it was hard to be out of the water since Thursday,” said Knoeppel, who added that some teams do not normally schedule Thursday practices and missed an extra day.

Gar-Field’s bus departed at 4:45 a.m. on Tuesday. Knoeppel estimated that after stopping for dinner, his kids might get home by 11 p.m.

Those who qualified for states will have two days of school before the state championship meet in Virginia Beach, which begins Friday afternoon.

For Stafford, the trouble on the way down was far outweighed by the joy of winning the regional championship.

After the trophy presentation, the Indians’ Nikki Noel, Rebecca Srygley, Charlotte Melkun, Anna Gayle, Fetter, Raddatz, Stephanie Moore, Katie Moore and Christy Moore laughed about sitting in the mall parking lot waiting an hour for a new bus.

“We ate at McDonald’s,” joked Raymond. “Maybe that’s what fueled us.”

Acknowledging the length of the trip, he said the best goal was just to try to get his swimmers some sleep.

Considering their three-point win, it was a good thing each and every one of them woke up.

“It was a real team effort,” Raymond said. “We had some girls who were just happy to be here, but they scored points, and those points were important.”

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